Munich Agreement


Munich Agreement

The Munich Pact (Dutch: Verdrag van München; Czech: Mnichovská dohoda; Slovak: Mníchovská dohoda; German: Münchner Abkommen; French: Accords de Munich; Italian: Accordi di Monaco; Russian: Мюнхенский сговор) was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without the presence of Czechoslovakia. Today, it is widely regarded as a failed act of appeasement toward Nazi Germany. The agreement was signed in the early hours of 30 September 1938 (but dated 29 September). The purpose of the conference was to discuss the future of the Sudetenland in the face of territorial demands made by Adolf Hitler. The agreement was signed by Nazi Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses were situated there, and many of its banks were located there as well.

Because the state of Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference, Czechs and Slovaks call the Munich Agreement the Munich Dictate (Czech: Mnichovský diktát; Slovak: Mníchovský diktát). The phrase Munich Betrayal (Czech: Mnichovská zrada; Slovak: Mníchovská zrada) is also used because the military alliance Czechoslovakia had with France and United Kingdom was not honoured. Today the document is typically referred to simply as the Munich Pact (Mnichovská dohoda).

Contents

Background

Demands for Sudeten autonomy

Pre-1945 areas with an ethnic German majority (in black) inside the current Czech Republic's territories.

From 1918 to 1938, after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, more than 3 million ethnic Germans were living in the Czech part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia.

Sudeten German pro-Nazi leader Konrad Henlein offered the Sudeten German Party (SdP) as the agent for Hitler's campaign. Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on March 28, 1938, where he was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government led by president Edvard Beneš. On April 24, the SdP issued the Carlsbad Decrees, demanding autonomy for the Sudetenland and the freedom to profess Nazi ideology. If Henlein's demands were granted, the Sudetenland would then be able to align itself with Nazi Germany.

The Pressure on Czechoslovak government

Edvard Beneš, the second President of Czechoslovakia and leader of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile.

As the previous appeasement of Hitler had shown, the governments of both France and the United Kingdom were set on avoiding war at any cost. The French government did not wish to face Nazi Germany alone and took its lead from the British government and its Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain believed that Sudeten German grievances were justified and that Hitler's intentions were limited. Both Britain and France, therefore, advised Czechoslovakia to concede to the Nazi demands. Beneš resisted and on May 20 a partial mobilization was underway in response to possible German invasion. Ten days later, Hitler signed a secret directive for war against Czechoslovakia to begin no later than October 1.

In the meantime, the British government demanded that Beneš request a mediator. Not wishing to sever his government's ties with Western Europe, Beneš reluctantly accepted. The British appointed Lord Runciman and instructed him to persuade Beneš to agree to a plan acceptable to the Sudeten Germans. On September 2, Beneš submitted the Fourth Plan, granting nearly all the demands of the Munich Agreement. Intent on obstructing conciliation, however, the SdP held demonstrations that provoked police action in Ostrava on September 7. The Sudeten Germans broke off negotiations on September 13, after violence and disruption ensued. As Czechoslovak troops attempted to restore order, Henlein flew to Germany and on September 15 issued a proclamation demanding the takeover of the Sudetenland by Germany.

On the same day, Hitler met with Chamberlain and demanded the swift takeover of the Sudetenland by the Third Reich under threat of war. The Czechs, Hitler claimed, were slaughtering the Sudeten Germans. Chamberlain referred the demand to the British and French governments; both accepted. The Czechoslovak government resisted, arguing that Hitler's proposal would ruin the nation's economy and lead ultimately to German control of all of Czechoslovakia. The United Kingdom and France issued an ultimatum, making a French commitment to Czechoslovakia contingent upon acceptance. On September 21, Czechoslovakia capitulated. The next day, however, Hitler added new demands, insisting that the claims of ethnic Germans in Poland and Hungary also be satisfied.

The Czechoslovak capitulation precipitated an outburst of national indignation. In demonstrations and rallies, Czechs and Slovaks called for a strong military government to defend the integrity of the state. A new cabinet, under General Jan Syrový, was installed and on September 23 a decree of general mobilization was issued. The Czechoslovak army, modern and possessing an excellent system of frontier fortifications, was prepared to fight. The Soviet Union announced its willingness to come to Czechoslovakia's assistance. Beneš, however, refused to go to war without the support of the Western powers.

On September 28, Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference. Hitler met the next day, at Munich, with the chiefs of governments of France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted.

Resolution

Sequence of events following the Munich Agreement:
1. Germany occupies the Sudetenland (October 1938).
2. Poland annexes Zaolzie, an area with a Polish majority taken over by Czech army in 1918-1920 (October 1938).
3. Hungary occupies border areas (southern third of Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia) with Hungarian minorities in accordance with the First Vienna Award (November 1938).
4. In March 1939, Hungary annexes Carpathian Ruthenia (which had been autonomous since October 1938).
5. The remaining Czech territories become the German satellite Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
6. The remainder of Czechoslovakia becomes Slovakia, another German satellite.
From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudetenland to Germany.

A deal was reached on 29 September, and at about 1:30am on 30 September 1938,[1] Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The agreement was officially introduced by Mussolini although in fact the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in the German Foreign Office. It was nearly identical to the Godesberg proposal: the German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by 10 October, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas.

Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of fighting the Nazis alone, reluctantly capitulated (30 September) and agreed to abide by the agreement. The settlement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting 10 October, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further. On September 30 after some rest, Chamberlain went to Hitler and asked him to sign a peace treaty between the United Kingdom and Germany. After Hitler's interpreter translated it for him, he happily agreed.

The Führerbau, in which the Agreement was signed, is today a school, the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München

On 30 September, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered his famous "peace for our time" speech to delighted crowds in London.

Reactions

Though the British and French were pleased, as were the Nazi military and German diplomatic leadership, Hitler was furious. He felt as though he had been forced into acting like a bourgeois politician by his diplomats and generals. He exclaimed furiously soon after the meeting with Chamberlain: "Gentlemen, this has been my first international conference and I can assure you that it will be my last".[2] Hitler now regarded Chamberlain with utter contempt. A British diplomat in Berlin was informed by reliable sources that Hitler viewed Chamberlain as "an impertinent busybody who spoke the ridiculous jargon of an outmoded democracy. The umbrella, which to the ordinary German was the symbol of peace, was in Hitler's view only a subject of derision".[3] Also, Hitler had been heard saying: "If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers".[4] In one of his public speeches after Munich, Hitler declared: "Thank God we have no umbrella politicians in this country".[4]

Joseph Stalin was also upset by the results of the Munich conference. The Soviets, who had a mutual military assistance treaty with Czechoslovakia, felt betrayed by France, which also had a mutual military assistance treaty with Czechoslovakia. The British and French, however, mostly used the Soviets as a threat to dangle over the Germans. Stalin concluded that the West had actively colluded with Hitler to hand over a Central European country to the Nazis, causing concern that they might do the same to the Soviet Union in the future, allowing the partition of the USSR between the western powers and the fascist Axis. This belief led the Soviet Union to reorient its foreign policy towards a rapprochement with Germany, which eventually led to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.[5]

The Czechoslovaks were greatly dismayed with the Munich settlement. With Sudetenland gone to Germany, Czecho-Slovakia (as the state was now renamed) lost its defensible border with Germany and its fortifications. Without them its independence became more nominal than real. In fact, Edvard Beneš, the President of Czechoslovakia, had the military print the march orders for his army and put the press on standby for a declaration of war. Czechoslovakia also lost 70% of its iron/steel, 70% of its electrical power, 3.5 million citizens to Germany as a result of the settlement.[6]

The Sudeten Germans celebrated what they saw as their liberation. The imminent war, it seemed, had been avoided.

In Germany, the decision preempted a potential revolt by senior Army officers against Hitler. Hitler's determination to go through with his plan for the invasion of all Czechoslovakia in 1938 had provoked a major crisis in the German command structure. The Chief of the General Staff, General Ludwig Beck, protested in a lengthy series of memos that it would start a world war that Germany would lose, and urged Hitler to put off the projected war. Hitler called Beck's arguments against war "kindische Kräfteberechnungen" ("childish force calculations"). On August 4, 1938, a secret Army meeting was held. Beck read his lengthy report to the assembled officers. They all agreed something had to be done to prevent certain disaster. Beck hoped they would all resign together but no one resigned except Beck. However his replacement, General Franz Halder, sympathised with Beck and together they conspired with several top generals, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Chief of German Intelligence), and Graf von Helldorf (Berlin's Police Chief) to arrest Hitler the moment he gave the invasion order. However, the plan would only work if both Britain and France made it known to the world that they would fight to preserve Czechoslovakia. This would help to convince the German people that certain defeat awaited Germany. Agents were therefore sent to England to tell Chamberlain that an attack on Czechoslovakia was planned and their intentions to overthrow Hitler if this occurred. However, the messengers were not taken seriously by the British. In September, Chamberlain and Daladier decided not to threaten a war over Czechoslovakia and so the planned removal of Hitler could not be justified.[7] The Munich Agreement therefore preserved Hitler in power.

Opinions about the agreement

The population had expected imminent war and the "statesman-like gesture" of Chamberlain was at first greeted with acclaim. This generally positive reaction, however, quickly soured. Despite royal patronage - Chamberlain was greeted as a hero by the royal family and invited on the balcony at Buckingham Palace before he had presented the agreement to Parliament. But there was opposition from the start; Clement Attlee and the Labour Party opposed the agreement, in alliance with two Conservative MPs, Duff Cooper and Vyvyan Adams who had been seen, up to then as a die hard and reactionary element in the Conservative Party.

In later years Chamberlain was excoriated for his role as one of the Men of Munich - perhaps most famously in the 1940 book Guilty Men. A rare wartime defence of the Munich Agreement came in 1944 from Viscount Maugham, who had been Lord Chancellor at the time. Maugham viewed the decision to establish a Czechoslovak state including substantial German and Hungarian minorities as a "dangerous experiment" in the light of previous disputes, and ascribed the Munich Agreement largely to France's need to extricate itself from its treaty obligations in the light of its unpreparedness for war.[8]

Daladier believed he saw Hitler's ultimate goals, but as a threat. He told the British in a late April 1938 meeting that Hitler's real aim was to eventually secure "a domination of the Continent in comparison with which the ambitions of Napoleon were feeble." He went on to say "Today it is the turn of Czechoslovakia. Tomorrow it will be the turn of Poland and Romania. When Germany has obtained the oil and wheat it needs, she will turn on the West. Certainly we must multiply our efforts to avoid war. But that will not be obtained unless Great Britain and France stick together, intervening in Prague for new concessions but declaring at the same time that they will safeguard the independence of Czechoslovakia. If, on the contrary, the Western Powers capitulate again they will only precipitate the war they wish to avoid.".[9] Perhaps discouraged by the arguments of the military and civilian members of the French government regarding their unprepared military and weak financial situation, as well as traumatised by France's bloodbath in the First World War that he was personally a witness to, Daladier ultimately let Chamberlain have his way. On his return to Paris, Daladier, who was expecting a hostile crowd, was acclaimed. He then told his aide, Alexis Léger: "Ah, les cons!" (Ah, the fools!).[10]

In 1960, William Shirer in his classic - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - took the view that although Hitler was not bluffing about his intention to invade, Czechoslovakia would have been able to offer significant resistance. He believed that Britain and France had sufficient air defences to avoid serious bombing of London and Paris and would have been able to pursue a rapid and successful war against Germany.[11] He quotes Churchill as saying the Munich agreement meant that "Britain and France were in a much worse position compared to Hitler's Germany".[11]

Consequences of the Munich agreement

On October 5, Beneš resigned as President of Czechoslovakia, realising that the fall of Czechoslovakia was fait accompli. Following the outbreak of World War II, he would form a Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London.

The first Vienna Award

"For 600 years we have been waiting for you (1335-1938)." Ethnic Polish band welcoming the annexation of Zaolzie by the Polish Republic in Karviná, October 1938.
Czech refugees expelled from the Sudetenland at the Refugees Office October 1938

In early November 1938, under the first Vienna Award, which was a result of the Munich agreement, Czechoslovakia (and later Slovakia) — after it had failed to reach a compromise with Hungary and Poland — was forced by Germany and Italy to cede southern Slovakia (one third of Slovak territory) to Hungary, while Poland gained small territorial cessions shortly after.

As a result, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia lost about 38% of their combined area to Germany, with some 3.2 million German and 750,000 Czech inhabitants. Hungary, in turn, received 11,882 km2 (4,588 sq mi) in southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia; according to a 1941 census, about 86.5% of the population in this territory was Hungarian. Meanwhile Poland annexed the town of Český Těšín with the surrounding area (some 906 km2 (350 sq mi), some 250,000 inhabitants, Poles made about 36% of population[12]) and two minor border areas in northern Slovakia, more precisely in the regions Spiš and Orava. (226 km2 (87 sq mi), 4,280 inhabitants, only 0.3% Poles).

Soon after Munich, 115,000 Czechs and 30,000 Germans fled to the remaining rump of Czechoslovakia. According to the Institute for Refugee Assistance, the actual count of refugees on March 1, 1939 stood at almost 150,000.[13]

On 4 December 1938, there were elections in Reichsgau Sudetenland, in which 97.32% of the adult population voted for NSDAP. About a half million Sudeten Germans joined the Nazi Party which was 17.34% of the German population in Sudetenland (the average NSDAP participation in Nazi Germany was 7.85%). This means the Sudetenland was the most "pro-Nazi" region in the Third Reich.[14] Because of their knowledge of the Czech language, many Sudeten Germans were employed in the administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as well as in Nazi organizations (Gestapo, etc.). The most notable was Karl Hermann Frank: the SS and Police general and Secretary of State in the Protectorate.

Invasion of the remainder of Czechoslovakia

Map of the Sudetenland Reichsgau.

Germany stated that the incorporation of Austria into the Reich resulted in borders with Czechoslovakia that were a great danger to German security, and that this allowed Germany to be encircled by the Western Powers.[15] In 1937, the Wehrmacht had formulated a plan called Operation Green (Fall Grün) for the invasion of Czechoslovakia[16] which was implemented as Operation Southeast on 15 March 1939.

On 14 March Slovakia seceded from Czechoslovakia and became a separate pro-Nazi state. On the following day, Carpathian Ruthenia proclaimed independence as well, but after three days was completely occupied by Hungary. Czechoslovak president Emil Hácha traveled to Berlin and was forced to sign his acceptance of German occupation of the remainder of Bohemia and Moravia. Churchill's prediction was fulfilled as German armies entered Prague and proceeded to occupy the rest of the country, which was transformed into a protectorate of the Reich.

Meanwhile concerns arose in Great Britain that Poland (now substantially encircled by German possessions) would become the next target of Nazi expansionism, which was made apparent by the dispute over the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig. This resulted in the signing of an Anglo-Polish military alliance, and consequent refusal of the Polish government to German negotiation proposals over the Polish Corridor and the status of Danzig.

Prime Minister Chamberlain felt betrayed by the Nazi seizure of Czechoslovakia, realizing his policy of appeasement towards Hitler had failed, and began to take a much harder line against the Nazis. Among other things he immediately began to mobilize the British Empire's armed forces on a war footing. France did the same. Italy saw itself threatened by the British and French fleets and started its own invasion of Albania in April 1939. Although no immediate action followed, Hitler's invasion of Poland on September 1 officially began World War II.

Non-negligible industrial potential and military equipment of the former Czechoslovakia had been efficiently absorbed in to the Third Reich.

Quotations from key participants

...the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine (waves paper to the crowd - receiving loud cheers and "Hear Hears"). Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you ...
"My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time." (Chamberlain's reference to Beaconsfield's return from the Congress of Berlin in 1878)
  • Chamberlain in a letter to his sister Hilda, on 2 October 1938:
"I asked Hitler about one in the morning while we were waiting for the draftsmen whether he would care to see me for another talk….I had a very friendly and pleasant talk, on Spain, (where he too said he had never had any territorial ambitions) economic relations with S.E. Europe, and disarmament. I did not mention colonies, nor did he. At the end I pulled out the declaration which I had prepared beforehand and asked if he would sign it. As the interpreter translated the words into German, Hitler said Yes, I will certainly sign it. When shall we do it? I said "now", and we went at once to the writing table and put our signatures to the two copies which I had brought with me."[citation needed]
"We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat...you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude...we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road...we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."

Legal nullification

During the Second World War, British Prime Minister Churchill, who opposed the agreement when it was signed, became determined that the terms of the agreement shall not be upheld after the war, and that the Sudeten territories shall be returned to postwar Czechoslovakia. On August 5, 1942, Foreign Minister Anthony Eden sent the following note to Jan Masaryk:

"In the light of recent exchanges of view between our Governments, I think it may be useful for me to make the following statement about the attitude of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as regards Czecho-Slovakia.

In my letter of the 18th July, 1941, I informed your Excellency that the King had decided to accredit an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Dr. Benes as President of the Czecho-Slovak Republic. I explained that this decision implied that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom regarded the juridical position of the President and Government of the Czecho-Slovak Republic as identical with that of the other Allied heads of States and Governments established in this country. The status of His Majesty's representative has recently been raised to that of an Ambassador.

The Prime Minister had already stated in a message broadcast to the Czecho-Slovak people on the 30th September, 1940, the attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to the arrangements reached at Munich in 1938. Mr. Churchill then said that the Munich Agreement had been destroyed by the Germans. This statement was formally communicated to Dr. Benes on the iith November, 1940.

The foregoing statement and formal act of recognition have guided the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Czecho-Slovakia, but in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I desire to declare on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that as Germany has deliberately destroyed the arrangements concerning Czecho-Slovakia reached in 1938, in which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom participated, His Majesty's Government regard themselves as free from any engagements in this respect. At the final settlement of the Czecho-Slovak frontiers to be reached at the end of the war they will not be influenced by any changes effected in and since 1938".

To which Masaryk replied as follows:

"I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 5th August, 1942, and I avail myself of this opportunity to convey to your Excellency, on behalf of the Czecho-Slovak Government and of myself, as well as in the name of the whole Czecho-Slovak people who are at present suffering so terribly under the Nazi yoke, the expression of our warmest thanks.

Your Excellency's note emphasises the fact that the formal act of recognition has guided the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Czecho-Slovakia, but, in order to avoid any possible misunderstanding, His Majesty's Government now desire to declare that, as Germany has deliberately destroyed the arrangements concerning Czecho-Slovakia reached in 1938, in which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom participated, His Majesty's Government regard themselves as free from any engagements in this respect. At the final settlement of the Czecho-Slovak frontiers to be reached at the end of the war, they will not be influenced by any changes effected in and since 1938.

My Government accept your Excellency's note as a practical solution of the questions and difficulties of vital importance for Czecho-Slovakia which emerged between our two countries as the consequence of the Munich Agreement, maintaining, of course, our political and juridical

position with regard to the Munich Agreement and the events which followed it as expressed in the note of the Czecho-Slovak Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the 16th December, 1941. We consider your important note of the 5th August, 1942, as a highly significant act of justice towards Czecho-Slovakia, and we assure you of our real satisfaction and of our profound gratitude to your great country and nation. Between our two countries the Munich Agreement can now be considered as dead".[17]

Following Allied victory and the surrender of the Third Reich in 1945, the Sudetenland was returned to Czechoslovakia, while the German speaking majority was expelled, sometimes killed.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Gilbert, Martin and Gott, Richard, The Appeasers (Weidenfeld Goldbacks, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1967), p. 178.
  2. ^ Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (Macmillan, 1959), p. 135.
  3. ^ Kirkpatrick, p. 122.
  4. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, p. 135.
  5. ^ (German) Klaus Hildebrand, "Das Dritte Reich". Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte. München 1991, S. 36
  6. ^ Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
  7. ^ Terry Parssinen: The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler, Pimlico Press, 2004, ISBN 1844133079]
  8. ^ Viscount Maugham, "The Truth about the Munich Crisis", William Heinemann Ltd, 1944.
  9. ^ Shirer, William The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940, 1969, De Capo Press, pages 339-340.
  10. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre, Le sursis
  11. ^ a b Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Pan. p. 520. 
  12. ^ Siwek, Tadeusz (not dated). "Statystyczni i niestatystyczni Polacy w Republice Czeskiej". Wspólnota Polska. http://www.wspolnota-polska.org.pl/index.php?id=kw3_3_06. 
  13. ^ Forced displacement of Czech population under Nazis in 1938 and 1943, Radio Prague
  14. ^ Zimmermann, Volker: Die Sudetendeutschen im NS-Staat. Politik und Stimmung der Bevölkerung im Reichsgau Sudetenland (1938-1945). Essen 1999. (ISBN 3884747703)
  15. ^ Reinhard Müller, Deutschland. Sechster Teil (München and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1943), pp. 116-130.
  16. ^ Herzstein, Robert Edwin The Nazis (Time-Life Books World War II Series) New York:1980 Time-Life Books Page 184
  17. ^ Text in League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 204, pp. 378-380.

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